Knighthood, Britain Essay, Research Paper
In Britain, what does it take to become knighted? Who are some and why were they knighted?
British knighthood today is closely associated with honorable conduct toward one’s own country. The tests and qualifications to become a knight have varied immensely throughout history. In the Middle Ages knights were a product of many years of training in the arts of literature, chivalry, strategy, sword fighting, and other aspects of high society (Scher 1). Nearly the only element of knighthood that has stood the test of time is the fact that it is a desired status for many British men.
The original coming of knights to Britain was early in the eleventh century. French soldiers came to England fighting off the backs of their horses and were called knights by the English people (Steele 11). This title had nothing to do with social distinction among men; in fact, nearly any man could become a knight if he had a horse and sword. Over time the importance of these mounted men would greatly increase.
At the beginning of the feudal system most lords had knights to fight for them in times of war. At first, the lords would supply horses and armor for these men, but as the cost of these goods rose, the knights would simply receive land (Scher 1). This is the circumstance, the need to purchase their own armor, that made more and more knights to come from wealthy, noble backgrounds and ultimately raise them above common people.
At the beginning of the age of chivalry, becoming a knight was as simple as owning a horse and armor and pledging allegiance to a lord or king. It didn’t take long for the feudal system to make this a task requiring a half a lifetime of dedication and hard work. In no time, aspiring knights were spending their entire childhood studying and training to become valiant horsemen themselves.
Just as a modern boy would ride in a toy car, young children would sit upon a wooden horse and ride it around with his stick lance (Steele 12). Kids who aspired to become knights would begin training at an early age, around five or six years old. Before becoming a knight, two ranks must be achieved, taking over ten years. It became a custom that a boy must be a page first, a servant second, and be knighted last.
At the age of seven a boy would become a page. Pages learned good manners and such skills as singing, dancing, and playing chess. These activities taught the lad such qualities as intelligence, maturity, and strategy (Scher 1). Fun activities were important for these children to keep their interest in learning alive. After about seven or eight years as a page, the young man became a squire (Scher 1).
Around the age of fourteen, he would be promoted to a squire (Steele 13). This was a step up from a page in both duties and stature. At the new position boys would fight by their master’s, trained knights, sides. To do this well they trained constantly by jousting with peers or dummies and horse riding practices (Steele 13). This was a major time period in the youth’s life, for he gets his first taste of knighthood.
After approximately four years of experience in warfare, the squire may finally be “dubbed” a knight (Steele 13). The dubbing process was a very important and sacred event and had numerous traditions attached to it. On the night before the ceremony, squires performed rituals such as bathing and wearing special clothes. All night long the squire prayed alone in a church (Scher 1). It was not until the elder knight tapped the squire on both shoulders and said, “I dub thee knight,” that the ceremony was completed (Scher 2). This motion was symbolic of the recognition of the knight by somebody of higher ranking. After this, the new knight would receive the blessed sword and weapons used by the knight who trained him (Scher 2).
A knight had certain possessions that were necessary to carry out his deeds.
No knight was well equipped without at least three horses: a battle horse, a horse to ride, and a packhorse for luggage. Several attendants were also required: one to conduct the horses, another to bear the heaviest weapons, one to mount him upon horses, and a fourth to guard the most valuable prisoners (Mueller 2).
This may sound like a large staff for such a well-trained person, but it must be taken into consideration the importance of the knight during this period of time. A knight is a warrior and defender of his land. If, by any chance, he is summoned off to battle, his attendants must always be prepared to maintain the readiness of the knight.
Inspired by Christian teachings, knights were supposed to have courteous and gentle manners. They saw themselves as a part of a noble superior class of people (Steele 11). Knights were expected to strictly follow a code of conduct called chivalry (Scher 2). The code of chivalry involved many strict rules concerning dress, manners, and overall moral conduct. Even though every knight was sworn upon this code, few knights followed it closely (Scher 2). Considering that true chivalrous knights are always spoken of in literature, they were few and far between.
Eventually the effectiveness of knights in battle began to diminish in importance. The development of firearms and cannons overpowered the usefulness of man-to-man combat that the knights practiced. As the original purpose of the knights became obsolete, the face of knighthood began to change. However, the link with military service did not totally disappear. During the eighteenth century, successful admirals were often knighted. Knights today are just as likely to be diplomats, merchants, or celebrities (Cannon 551) who have become prominent citizens.
No longer are knights valiant warriors who fight for glory and bravery. Knights today are just ordinary people who have contributed an extraordinary amount of good to the English society. It is well known that Elton John was knighted for his contributions towards Princess Di’s fund, but few know that Americans can be knighted as well. Admiral Leighton W. Smith, Jr. was knighted in recognition of his role in NATO’s Southern Command based in Naples (Worley 3).
Although the way the title of “knight” is earned has inflected greatly over the centuries. Knighthood has never been awarded to an undeserving person. From medieval warriors to modern philanthropists knighthood has always been, and always will be, a mark of distinction for those who have attained it